“Cast your bread upon the Waters” A Report from Your Czech Correspondent
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This shopping mall looks like it could be in Cleveland or Milwaukee. My daughter, Beth, and I have walked South (our natural inclination, of course) from the old city of Brno, Czech Republic, passing through a busy pedestrian tunnel under the imposing train station, in hope of finding a shop where she can get a haircut.
On the face of it a haircut seems like nothing much to write about, but everything here in the Czech Republic has been an adventure. You see, despite the fact that we have a Czech surname, our inability to communicate in the Czech language seems to put a certain tension and uncertainty into every personal and commercial transaction. For example, when Beth approached the young lady at the desk and asked if she could get her hair shortened by “about an inch” (of course, she should have said “about 2.2 centimeters”) the receptionist thought that she was asking to get her hair colored.
“No, no…just a cut, please!”
This was a laugh to us since we had just been discussing the amazingly high percentage of women we had seen in our first two days here who had colored their hair red. What’s unusual is that the shade of “red” isn’t the auburn highlight that we are accustomed to seeing. It’s a far more unnatural shade that approaches what I would call “bright burgundy”. The unnatural aspect of the tint apparently hasn’t stopped it from being popular across various spectra. All ages and shapes of women are sporting this style leading Beth and I to speculate that there must be a fad going on here that is driven by the desire to emulate some rock or pop diva. We just don’t know who that might be.
While Beth’s hair is shortened by a few centimeters, I visit a nearby café. I’m starting to get the hang of the “café thing”. Actually, I think I could really get used to this. You sit and read or talk or smoke and someone attentively fills up your glass or your plate. It’s casual and relaxing and the language barrier is more or less easily overcome in this setting. You can get lost in your reading or talking or thinking and the time can slip away pleasantly. I like it. I really like it. I worry a little about the productivity of these folks, though.
When Beth rejoins me we discuss the eleventh chapter of Ecclesiastes, which I had read this morning and am reminded of now. “Cast your bread upon the waters…” it says. Solomon reminds us that outcomes are uncertain (to us, of course, not to God), but that faith in Him is called for. This adventure in the Czech Republic, I think, is like that for Beth. She has been given an opportunity to study trumpet at a prestigious European Academy and, despite trepidations, has decided to step out in faith.
Verse six of the same chapter says “In the morning sow your seed and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”
I’m very proud of Beth. She has undertaken this journey, I think, for all the right reasons. Ultimately she knows that the only way to play trumpet (or do anything else) that is not vain and shallow and meaningless, is to play it for the glory of God. Indeed the very first chapter of Ecclesiastes reminds us that nothing under the sun is new or meaningful or lasting since it has all been done before and will all be done again after we are gone. The only thing that can ennoble that which we do is the motive - to do it for God’s glory. It is a blessing for me to be able to have this conversation with my child. Beth and I finish up this discussion over lunch at a window seat of another café (there goes my productivity) on a side street just off Svobody Namesti (Liberty Square). The street is called “Ceska” but the café is called “Brasserie” and seems pretty French to me.
In my last article I mentioned a young man who has agreed to help us try to locate and communicate with those who share our family name in this country. He and his lady friend invite us to dinner in a cozy subterranean restaurant reminiscent of a medieval wine cellar. While scanning the menu, we are advised that we probably won’t be impressed by any of the beef or the fish that is available locally but that if we order chicken or pork dishes we will be more than satisfied. We follow our hosts’ advice, of course, and are richly rewarded.
During dinner I try to remember the small bit of Czech words and phrases that I learned as a child. I also tell our hosts some of the lyrics to certain little songs that my grandmother Peroutka, who was first generation in America and whose mother grew up in this city (and maybe even was in this very room), taught to me and my brothers and sisters and cousins. My hosts rather enjoy my mispronouncing of many words including a word that my father often used to express displeasure with me when I did something stupid. He would say something like “Don’t be such a ‘dropa’. I always took this to mean something like “Don’t be stupid!” or “don’t be such a dummy!”
When I pronounced this word and spelled it this way for our hosts, they laughed and said that this was not quite right. The word I was trying to say and spell for them was more probably the word “troba”, which translates as “You pipehead!” or “You have a metal pipe for a head!”
This was undoubtedly the correct word. For as a young man — full of myself, and confident that I was not only brilliant but invincible — this appellation, I now see, was right on the mark. Thanks, Dad.
In addition to our vocabulary lesson, our dinner conversation includes a more serious discussion of the way the Czech people view Americans and the US government’s policies. There is great resentment for US arrogance and for using the Czech people as pawns in dealing with both Russia and the Middle East.
Though we don’t want this moment to end, we finish our time together by making plans for how we will try to contact possible relatives around Brno. For the past few weeks I have been studying the fine research done by my cousin Dr. Stephen Peroutka of California and Captain Joe Ferguson of Utah. (Though Joe lives in Utah, he is originally from Tyler, Texas. Of course, like every other Texan I know, you don’t have to know them long before you know they are from Texas. They have way of letting you know, don’t they?)
Anyway, back in 1998 my cousin, Stephen, did extensive work to identify and organize our family genealogy. His work is very masterful and very much appreciated. He traveled to the Czech Republic and took great time and expense to coordinate his findings with many family members who remembered stories and facts about our ancestors and our living, extended family members.
With his work as the starting point, my good friend and fellow traveler, Captain Ferguson picked up the trail and with the help of a genealogy researcher named Jaroslav Jansa, here in the Czech Republic, significantly expanded on the work of Dr. Peroutka, specifically with respect to our branch of the family which can be traced back through the arrival in America on January 20, 1890 of Antonin Peroutka and his future wife Katerina Sarovec.
Though we don’t know for sure whether they knew each other here or if they met on the ship (their names are listed next to one another on the ship’s manifest), they married in America later in 1890. As I mentioned in my previous article, the records unearthed by my cousin and my friends, show that Antonin was born in a little village known as Zbizuby, a few miles Southeast of Prague. We are excited about visiting there in the next few days. Those who walked there before us have made sacrifices on our behalf of which we will never be fully aware but which we want to acknowledge and appreciate more fully. We are grateful to God and to them that they faithfully “…cast their bread upon the waters”.